Editorial

While waiting hours in line to give a sample for COVID-19 testing, there’s lots of time to ponder questions, such as: why is this crucial procedure being conducted so ineptly?

Don’t expect a detailed answer from the province, even though it’s ultimately in charge of the sites where citizens line up for blocks to submit to a nasopharyngeal swab to learn if they are infected. The lines are so long that some people are being told before noon that they may as well leave, because the testing site will close before they reach the front of the line.

"Try again tomorrow" is a callous rebuff to citizens who worry they may have a potentially lethal virus.

In the weeks since the lineups became a debacle, Health Minister Cameron Friesen and his colleagues in the Pallister government have been stingy with public displays of empathy for victims of the insufferably long waits, some of whom have publicly reported that keeping their place in the queue has meant enduring the shame of conducting necessary bathroom functions inside their vehicles or in back alleys.

Health Minister Cameron Friesen and his colleagues in the Pallister government have been stingy with public displays of empathy for victims of the insufferably long waits

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / FREE PRESS FILES

Health Minister Cameron Friesen and his colleagues in the Pallister government have been stingy with public displays of empathy for victims of the insufferably long waits

But even more important than the Conservatives’ apparent lack of emotional sensitivity is their lack of adequate answers to logical questions. Why must people wait so long to get tested? How will this inefficiency be fixed?

The absence of reliable information led the public to offer suggestions intended to spur the province to practical solutions. How about letting people make appointments instead of standing in line? Why not open makeshift sample-collection sites inside cavernous and empty buildings such as the RBC Convention Centre or Bell MTS Place? If outdoor waits are inevitable, in the name of human dignity, supply the lineups with portable toilets.

The problem doesn’t seem to be about money. Winnipeg Liberal MP Dan Vandal noted on Sept. 23 that Ottawa has allocated $109 million to help Manitoba triple its testing capacity, and he criticized the provincial government for not spending it.

Winnipeggers shouldn’t have to to wait so long for tests that are so important ‐ and they certainly shouldn’t have to wait very long for the province to fulfil its overdue pledge to get testing “back on track.”

Finally, at a news conference Thursday with chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin, Mr. Friesen vowed: "We’re committed to getting back on track." He said the province is trying to hire more staff for more screening sites, and more sample-collection sites will "pop up" in coming weeks.

One problem with Mr. Friesen’s expression of concern is the lateness of its arrival; lineups at sample sites have been unacceptably long for weeks and, until Thursday, his responses to media questions about the matter have seemed to some to be an attempt to offload responsibility.

When asked on Sept. 22 about plans to make sample collection more available, Mr. Friesen told the Free Press to pose those questions to Dynacare, a North Carolina-based private company that has been hired to open more drive-thru sites in Winnipeg.

A second problem is that Mr. Friesen’s pledges are long on aspiration, but short on specifics — small consolation to the people who can’t get tested because lines are too long, which include many who are physically unable to stand for hours. They want to know where and when the new sample-collection sites will open.

Despite the vague nature of Mr. Friesen’s promises on Thursday, it’s encouraging that the health minister finally acknowledged his government’s responsibility. The province should be accountable to the people who can’t get tested in a reasonable time frame.

Winnipeggers shouldn’t have to to wait so long for tests that are so important — and they certainly shouldn’t have to wait very long for the province to fulfil its overdue pledge to get testing "back on track."